Every year, we make a playlist of the best 100 songs of the year, and we write about the top 10. We hope you like this year’s list and that you discover some new favorites to add to your own playlists. Also, make sure to check out last year’s playlist and top 10 write-up.
If you’re interested in writing for Freezepeach in 2022, shoot us an email, we’d love to talk.
10. Like I Used To – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen
Two powerful musicians came together for their first collaboration on Like I Used To. In an Instagram post from May, Sharon Van Etten described the song’s origin story: “I never thought I would get the courage to send her an unfinished song and ask her to do a duet with me and here we are. Thank you, Angel [Olsen], for calling my bluff and lifting me up, and making this song better than it ever could have been.” In response, Angel Olsen admitted she was always too shy to ask Sharon Van Etten about working together. The mutual admiration these two have for each other is palpable in this duet; both clearly wanting to make the most of the opportunity to work and sing together. They sing about the past nostalgically, but with minimal romance, as their memories serve to remind themselves of who they truly are.
9. I Love You, I Hate You – Little Simz
Little Simz got a whole lot more personal on her new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. The London-based rapper tackles her complicated feelings toward her father on the album’s standout fourth single I Love You, I Hate You. In doing so, she admits she “hasn’t confronted all her daddy issues,” before revealing she “never thought a parent would give [her] [her] first heartbreak,” all of which leads to a piercing rhetorical question: “Is you a sperm donor or a dad to me?” The music adds to the song’s gravity, with volatile orchestra-style production from Inflo, who notably also produced 3 songs on Adele’s emotionally-charged new album 30. The song comes full circle at the end, as Little Simz explains how expressing these feelings about her relationship with her father is cathartic, especially from an introvert who tends to keep things bottled up. Her motivation behind writing the song is clarified in its conclusion: “I’m not forgiving for you, man, I’m forgiving for me.”
8. deja vu – Olivia Rodrigo
2021 was Olivia Rodrigo’s year. Led by her breakout breakup hit drivers license, her debut album Sour has dominated the pop music scene since coming out in May. But there’s an even better breakup song on the album, and it’s called deja vu. Rodrigo turns pain into power in this spiteful anthem, reminding her ex, and his new fling, that their relationship is nothing but recycled moments Rodrigo has already shared with him. She describes those moments in excruciating detail, like how the new girl probably “knows Billy Joel, ’cause you played her ‘Uptown Girl,’” and how he probably told her he loves her “in between the chorus and the verse.” The rest of the song’s lyrics are just as brilliantly bitter. And for a traditional pop song, producer Dan Nigro delivers a stellar drop at the 1:25 mark that serves as the ultimate mic drop following Rodrigo’s charged question to her ex: “do you get deja vu, huh?”
7. Don’t Judge Me – FKA Twigs, Headie One, & Fred again..
If you watch any of Tahliah Debrett Barnett’s (AKA FKA Twigs) music videos, you’ll realize how important physical expression is to her art. For example, after watching the video for the stunning Cellophane, it’s reasonable to think the song was written to accommodate the contemporary dance performance—and not the other way around. It’s striking and uncanny how well she is able to physically translate such delicate music. The video for Don’t Judge Me evokes the same reaction: the song almost feels secondary to the visual performance, like the video demanded a soundtrack. But in no way is that a knock against the song itself—if anything it dramatizes it and reveals the completeness of its vision and message.
6. Little Things – Big Thief
Because what would a Freezepeach end of year list be without an Adrienne Lenker appearance? In 2019, we crowned Cattails the best song of the year, and last year Adrienne Lenker’s anything cracked the top 10. And here she is again, making her and Big Thief the most-featured artist in our top 10 lists, which we’ve published since 2018. Big Thief released a handful of songs in 2021 ahead of their new album due out early next year, the most beautiful being Little Things, a musical expression of what it feels like to be swept up in unconditional love. It’s organic indie folk rock at its purest and most tender.
5. RIP Young – Isaiah Rashad
Isaiah Rashad is no longer the dark horse of Top Dawg Entertainment. After waiting his turn in the shadows of label-mates Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab-Soul, Rashad has emerged as a bona fide force in hip hop. The Chattanooga, Tennessee native has continued to refine his sound over his three album run, as he increasingly pays homage to the sounds of Southern trap, trades raps for laidback melodies, and doubles down on woozy drug-dusted production. No song on his latest album, The House Is Burning, better encapsulates all these facets of Rashad’s evolved aesthetic quite like RIP Young. Backed by superb production from newcomer Kal Banx that includes a Project Pat sample, Rashad shows off how he can say less with more, filling in pockets of the beat with staccato-style lyrical jabs and ad-libs. The result is mesmerizing. And keep in mind, as he reminds us in the chorus via an earworm, Isaiah Rashad isn’t a “cool cat,” anymore, he’s officially a Top Dawg. (For more on Isaiah Rashad’s THIB, check out our review from earlier this year).
4. Be Sweet – Japanese Breakfast
In 2021, Michelle Zauner may have become more famous as an author than a musician. Her best selling memoir, Crying in H Mart, is the follow up to a New Yorker article by the same name she wrote in 2018. Her book has received widespread acclaim for its honest and personal writing about loss, immigration, and Asian-American identity. (It even made Barack Obama’s much-anticipated end of year list). Shortly after the book came out, Zauner’s band Japanese Breakfast released their third album Jubilee. As the album title suggests, Jubilee is the group’s most upbeat record to date, with album-defining contagious pop songs such as Be Sweet. True to the artist’s nature, even many of the album’s upbeat tracks—Slide Tackle, for example—come with a certain degree of emotional weight, but Be Sweet cracks our top 10 list because of how Zauner flips the script, indulging in her more light-hearted sensibilities.
3. Drones – Terrace Martin, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Ty Dolla $ign, & James Fauntleroy
Terrace Martin’s progressive concept album Drones is a slice of West Coast-flavored dystopia. Warning signs of impending chaos flash throughout the album, from the demonically possessed woman on the album cover to lyrics about “drones being tapped” and pools of “blood on the ground.” The album centers around the idea that we’re becoming dehumanized, desensitized, and ultimately controlled by the influences of technology. No song better captures this theme than the title track Drones, a sleek and sexy commentary on the lack of real intimacy in modern relationships. Featuring Kendrick Lamar, James Fauntleroy, Ty Dolla $ign, and Snoop Dogg, the bar was set high for this one; yet the satirical steaminess of robotic love hits on all cylinders, with hilarious and disturbing references to sexual romance being akin to “computers in the dark, making more clones.”
2. White Dress – Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey released two albums this year, Chemtrails Over the Country Club and Blue Bannisters, which together mark an extremely productive 2021. The third single from COTCC, White Dress, finds Lana Del Rey at her most earnest and nostalgic as she sings in passionate whispers while trying to describe the excitement of youthful ambition. And while the song is autobiographical, the depiction of her waiting tables is largely symbolic of the starving artist phase that defines the early lives and careers of many aspiring artists. She remembers how getting noticed in the early days “made [her] feel like a God,” but in a tragic twist, these memories also make Lana Del Rey wonder if “maybe [she] was better off” before she made it big. It’s lyrics like these throughout White Dress that feel so intimate it’s like they’re secrets being shared with us in confidence.
1. All Too Well (Taylor’s Version) (10 Minute Version)
Taylor Swift is making the ultimate power move. By re-releasing each album in her discography, she’ll finally own the master copies of her music. In a highly publicized controversy back in November 2020, Scooter Braun sold the rights of her masters, previously owned by her label Big Machine Label Group, to a private equity firm. Swift was not happy about it, and stated publicly that the master copies had not been made available for her to buy. Instead of just calling out the relevant parties, she decided to take real action. In an unprecedented move, she is re-recording all six of her studio albums, which she will have complete ownership of, and which will render the previous versions, now owned by the private equity firm, far less valuable. The move is a first in an industry known for heavily favoring executives at the expense of artists.
This is a paradigm-shifting move that sets an undeniable precedent for artist empowerment. She is making a point about how fragile the power dynamics of the recording industry are, and how much leverage artists can wield over their work. With the Taylor’s Version recordings, Swift is proving that artists and creators are the ones with the raw power at the end of the day, even if they have been unfairly denied it for a long time. Moving forward, record executives will have to think twice before going against an artist’s wishes; it might be a self-sabotaging business decision.
Now, to the music itself. While Taylor Swift has a laundry list of greatest hits across her 6 studio albums, All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version), is the breakout anthem for this new phase of her career, and it’s our top song of 2021. All Too Well is not just a re-recording of the original from 2012, it’s an improved twice-as-long extension that captivates for over 10 minutes, and whose lyrics “fuck the patriarchy” have a whole new ring to them in the context of Taylor’s Version. Ah, revenge.
Listen to all 100 top songs from 2021 on our Spotify playlist